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New York police arrest veterans protesting at Vietnam War Memorial

Activists say protest was part of an attempt to revive Occupy movement, with events planned worldwide

Three military veterans were arrested at New York City’s Vietnam Memorial after taking part in a protest that activists said was part of an attempted revival of the Occupy movement, a push that began Friday with events planned worldwide.

About 100 protesters at the New York memorial shouted “shame” and “no justice, no peace” as police loaded the three veterans and two other protesters into the back of a van.

Activists said they had planned to read the names of fallen U.S. soldiers at the memorial in lower Manhattan, but police said the park had closed at 10 p.m. so the public was not allowed to be there. The rally was organized by Veterans for Peace (VFP), a nonprofit organization that says it is dedicated to educating the public about the costs of war.

As the crowd gathered, police gave three warnings over a loudspeaker that anyone remaining at the memorial would be subject to arrest.

“There’s no reason for this park to be closed,” John Spitzberg, a veteran and member of VFP, told Al Jazeera. Spitzberg was one of the veterans arrested Friday.

“The right to protest doesn’t end at 10 p.m.,” he said.

A New York Police Dept. Detective who gave only his surname, Sessa, said at the time of publication late Friday that police did not yet have information about the arrests.

The Occupy movement began in Zuccotti Park in New York City’s financial district in September 2011, launching debate over wealth concentration in the hands of the “1 percent” into mainstream politics and media.

On May 1, 2012, hundreds of protesters marched from Zuccotti Park to the Vietnam memorial for a “general assembly.” Police later arrived and told those gathered that they would have to leave because the park closed at 10 p.m. Activists say the memorial is usually open to the public 24 hours a day.

In at attempt to defuse the tension that day, veterans formed a line between police and protesters, said Ellen Davidson, a member of VFP but not a veteran herself. But they were soon arrested themselves, she told Al Jazeera on Friday.

“That’s what made us say what the hell,” Davidson said, adding that the group returned in October 2012 and October 2013 to protest the treatment of the veterans. Dozens more veterans and their supporters were arrested at subsequent protests.

On Friday, protesters had again planned to read the names at the memorial at 10 p.m. in protest, but dozens of police – including some from the Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU) – were waiting with dozens of zip-ties, or plastic handcuffs.

Spitzberg, a past president of his Ashville, N.C. VFP chapter, said he was at the protest to bring attention to the billions of dollars the U.S. spends on war.

“That money could be used for the poor. Meanwhile, the number of homeless veterans is multiplying – the number of veterans committing suicide is multiplying,” Spitzberg said. “This country is so militaristic, so totally devoted to the wealthy 1 percent that Occupy spoke about.”

Protesters said that they had returned to the Vietnam Memorial on Friday as part of a planned Occupy revival – called “Worldwide Wave of Action” – and that events were planned for Friday in cities around the world.

Activists said about 100 protesters had gathered at Zuccotti Park earlier Friday. No arrests were reported.

Lewis Chiu, a protester who was arrested Friday, told Al Jazeera that he was at the event because he believed the memorial should be open to the public.

“The only way I’ll leave is if they arrest me,” he said, shortly before police zip-tied him and loaded him into a van.

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